Be a Course Instructor

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Protospace thrives on members stepping up and being instructors.

Protospace can always use more instructors. Especially courses that gatekeep access to tools and the space:

New Members Orientation

Laser I: Basic Cutting and Engraving

Laser II: Trotec Course

Woodworking Tools 1: Intro to Saws

Basic CNC Wood Router

Woodworking Tools 2: Jointer, Thickness Planer, Drum Sander

Metal: Metal Cutting & Manual Lathe

Tormach: CAM and Tormach Intro

TODO: programatically generate list above from Spaceport

Courses vs. Classes

It's important to know the difference between a course and a class.

A course is like “Gardening 101”. A class is when you teach Gardening 101 at "3:00 pm next Wednesday".

Create a Class

A class is an instance of a course. A class is run on a specific date, time and location and is what members sign up for to become students.

To create a class:

  1. Contact a Protospace director or Tanner to grant instructor permissions to your account
  2. Once your account has instructor permissions, you can create classes in Spaceport:
  3. A walk-through of creating a class on Spaceport as of March 2022

Additional details

Create or Update a Course

A course is a well defined scope of knowledge intended to be taught in a classroom session. A course is an abstract thing, not tied to a single person - though a single person may be most passionate about a course and often run the first several classes on it.

To create a course:

  1. Contact a director or Tanner to grant instructor permissions to your account
  2. Once your account has instructor permissions, you can create courses (or update course descriptions) in Spaceport:
  3. A walk-through on creating a course on Spaceport as of March 2022

  4. Once your course has been made, you can create classes to make it available to members

Common challenges, FAQs and solutions

Where can I access course materials?

Slidesets are available here on Protospace's Google Drive. Please try to keep up to date versions of slide sets here.

As of 2022-03-21, several slightly more up-to-date slide sets exist on the classroom computer.

OK, I'm interested in running a class - how do I get started?


If you are comfortable running a class, select the course and create a class

If you want to run a class for a course that doesn't exist, create the course first

If you aren't comfortable yet, the next step is to take a look at the upcoming classes and approach an instructor about shadowing or co-instructing. It never hurts to ask on the forum!

Running classes take a lot of time

They can, but don't have to. You are the instructor, feel free to break the class up over multiple sessions.

If a class takes too much time out of the day: be extra diligent to run courses on your time by declaring hard stops, keeping an eye on the clock, and calling out how much time is left before you have to run.

If classes takes too much time out of your month: run less classes each month. Avoid burnout.

Life is hectic and I don't think I have time for this

That's ok. Sometimes life is busy. Maybe things will calm down in a few months and then will be a good time to pick it up.

Alternatively, you could try strategies to soften the time commitments. Book a half day to be at Protospace and allot 1-2 of those hours running a course.

Teaching is its own skill

Teaching is absolutely a skill to possess on top of whatever skill you're teaching. Teaching as a skill is a topic larger than this section in its own right. Some quick pointers:

  • Focus on the basics of your subject - Nail down 1 to 5 key concepts that underpin the rest of the subject. Repeat those key concepts often, usually by showing how those key concepts explain advanced concepts or behaviour. If there are more key concepts then that, this class may be overscoped
  • Define your terms - Every subject creates its own set of jargon unfamiliar to students new to the subject. Be patient in defining them, have a glossary for students to reference
  • Leverage prerequisites - Determine what, if any, prerequisite knowledge your students possess and what you can lean on when extending those understandings to new subjects or concepts.
  • Balance theory and practice - Theory is great for sharing good mental models and bad for hands-on experimentation. Practice is great for hands-on experimentation but not great for developing good mental models. Try to address both during a class and go back and forth between them. Theory should inform practice. Practice should demonstrate theoretical concepts.

For more reference, Transport Canada's Flight Instructors Guide has a great guide on helping others learn and strategies to do this.

You may also consider contacting the instructor for Protospace's Train the Trainer course

Don't be shy to ask questions about effective teaching on the forum or by shadowing more experienced instructors to see how they do it.

Public speaking makes me nervous

This is natural. Unfortunately, the only way to get over this is to jump in. Fortunately, as you build positive experiences, these nerves will disappear over time. Here are some suggestions to make those first few times a positive experience:

  • Start by shadowing or co-instructing a course. Having a copilot takes the spotlight off you. You can also see how other folks do it and get comfortable
  • Book your first couple courses for a smaller audience. Load those courses with people you already know and are familiar with
  • Take a deep breath and speak slowly. Part of anxiety and nerves is the positive feedback loop between your heartbeat and your nerves. The faster your heartbeats, the more nervous you get, which causes your heart to beat faster, etc etc. Fortunately, this works in the reverse: take a deep breath to slow your heart down, which will help calm down your nerves.
  • Get comfortable with the material you are presenting. Being well prepared reduces nerves

What if a student is more knowledgeable than me?

That's great! This is great for a few reasons:

  • You have a surprise co-instructor in your midst. Direct questions to this person and let them explain to your students the subject matter. Feel free to chime in with your reframes and additions. If this person turns out to not be as knowledgeable as first advertised, dial back your inclusion of them in your class
  • This knowledgeable student might have a thing to add to your understanding
  • This person might be interested in becoming a trainer. Try to make it a good experience for them and Protospace could be gaining a valuable asset
  • Knowledgeable people are great to have in your network

Even with all of this in mind, remember that while this student might be more knowledgeable than you on this subject, they likely are not as knowledgeable on how that subject is done at Protospace. Which tools to use, where they are located, how to maintain them, quirks to watch out for, etc are all things they will still need to be cleared on before using.

I don't feel qualified to run a class

Similar to dealing with complicated subjects, your role is not to convey the entirety of a subject - it is to get your student up and running. Chances are, if you know how to use a tool safely and can explain in clear steps how you do it - you are qualified to teach it, even if you have to muddle through it.

Ask for a co-instructor or shadow another class for the course you're interested in teaching to get a sense. Post about it in the Teachers Lounge as well.

I don't want to deal with disruptive jerks that may be in my class

Dealing with disruptive jerks isn't your job. Volunteering to run courses is excellent enough. If you feel comfortable, remind this person they are not being excellent to you or their fellow classmates. Politely asking to refrain from disruptive behaviour should be enough. If it persists, adjourn the course and raise the issue in the Teachers Lounge or contact the directors.

This subject is too complicated to cover in one class

Reframe what you're teaching: You’re not here to train people to master a tool, you’re here to teach them how to safely operate a tool. You aren’t teaching them to cook, you’re teaching them how to operate the stove. It’s up to them to practice and experiment safely, and get better as they go. you're not trying to teach mastery here.

Students bailing or no-showing are a buzzkill

Yes it is.

Sometimes life comes up, try to Hanlon's razor it in your mind and reach out to the person and ask why. If it is a consistent problem, mention in on the Teachers lounge and maybe we can find a solution.

I get rusty not having done a course for awhile

Try to the course regularly - even once every 2-3 months is great. This may be inevitable, so taking some time to reacquaint yourself with the machine might be necessary before instructing a class.

Students are missing prerequisite information

Sometimes prerequisites might need to be handled by referencing additional material before or after class.

If you notice many students are missing the same prerequisite, that is a good candidate for another course or Protospace wiki page you can drive students to.

Missing prerequisites is a common problem when learning a subject is more challenging than it ought to be, when computers are involved or when knowledge is taken for granted. Raise questions, observations or solutions to these issues in the Teachers Lounge.

Someone is using a tool that I need to run a class on

Classes take priority over projects. Politely let them know you're about to run a course on it and to finish up. If they give you any difficulty on that, contact a director.

Why become an instructor?

Your Makerspace stays financially solvent

Members who use tools stick around longer. Members stick around = more recurring revenue

Students often pay money to access training. Protospace uses that money for tool repairs and even new tools. You made that happen!

Your Makerspace community gets better tools

Makerspaces with knowledgeable makers use tools properly. Tools will break less, are maintained better and may even be actively improved by those that want more out of them.

Your network gets bigger and serendipitous

Makerspaces attracts a bunch of neat people. Running courses is a great way to meet many of them. This makes coming to space more fun and friendly.

Better yet, you're immediately in their good graces by helping clear them on a tool and making their projects a reality. The effects of reciprocity are real - maybe they can do something to help you that you don't know about until you meet them.

Your Makerspace gets cooler tools

Tools that no one uses can't justify the space they take up. Those tools end up falling into disrepair and end up being sold or junked.

By having a reliable and robust group of trainers and knowledge sharing, we can justify getting cool new tools because the training infrastructure is in place to teach members how to use it. Members who use tools will demand they stay around and in good working order.

Teaching makes you more knowledgeable

Teaching well requires a strong grasp of the subject. Forcing yourself to teach forces you to understand the subject better - simplifying your own understanding, articulating it to the less experienced, concocting new ways to describe ideas are all ways that deepen and broaden your understanding of a subject.

Every now and again, someone you trained will continue down the path you set them on and teach you something you didn't know. This has happened numerous times at Protospace already!

Your Makerspace gets better in ways we can't conceive of

Member training is an essential element to acquire new members and keep Protospace running as churn inevitably happens. Historically, training has fallen to a small group. That group is quite passionate about Protospace, which is why they do so much training. But those members have fun ideas for Protospace too. If they are stuck training courses, they have no energy doing another improvement - maybe they want to build or improve a tool we already have, contribute and setup a new tool or build an improvement to the space.

The more members that take on training, the lower the opportunity cost is for all members.

Offering your Course to Members of the Public, or Friends and Family of Protospace Members

While many courses offered at Protospace are geared to members' safe and effective use of Protospace tools and equipment or general safety, consider if your course can be a value-added benefit to the Protospace community and potential members of the general public. If you feel your course can be offered safely to non-members please ensure that:

  1. There is supervision (children must be within vision at all times)
  2. Safety protocols have been followed (specific to the activity and the space such as exits, washrooms, and emergency protocols)
  3. They have signed the waiver (same waiver for guests)
  4. The activity is noted in the insurance policy (Broker: John Kearney 403-221-7243)
  5. Protospace agrees to the class offered to non-members

Ego boost

Nothing keeps down imposter syndrome like empowering a bunch of people to use a tool they never thought they could before. Not just anyone is capable of using said tool, let alone showing others how to.

Make it easy to run classes

Protospace is not-for-profit and relies on volunteers to operate. ANYTHING that reduces the barrier-to-entry and ongoing-costs for instructors should be prioritized over running classes. When we take care of instructors, classes and courses will follow.

Use existing course materials wherever possible

Existing course materials are available here. Existing course materials could extend to many things - a youtube video that's particularly good, an article, an animated gif that explains how something works or even a book.

It isn't cheating to use what already exists, either. Part of being a good teacher is curating good sources of information!

Using existing materials saves you from having to cover ground others already have. Instead, you can use your energy to answer questions, connect concepts, put your own spin on things or do hands-on practical demonstrations.

Shadowing and Co-instructing

Shadowing = Attending a course and seeing how it functions. You don't pay for these courses and you don't get certified from them.

Co-instructing = Attending a course to help answer questions and teach it, with half or the bulk of instructing going to the "primary instructor"

This is a great way to get exposed to teaching courses at Protospace if you have never done it before. It is also a great way to help others gets exposed so we can expand our roster of trainers.

Invite people to shadow or co-instruct courses that you are running or shadow/offer to co-instruct classes they are running. It makes the classroom sessions more collaborative, conversational and it’s a great way to demonstrate the quality of community at Protospace for those angling to get involved.

It also is a great way to make classes less tiring - having two people to field questions or explain concepts means twice as many chances to take a breather or drink your water.

Prioritize your comfort

Take breaks - 5 minute break for every 55 minutes is a good recommendation.

Drink water.

Don't do so many courses you burn out. Pick your cadence and stick to it. If you're willing to run one course a month, that's great! If you're willing to run once a quarter - that's also great! Beggars can't be choosers, and Protospace is the beggar here - pick what works for you, stick with it and encourage other members to fill in the gaps.

Encourage students to self-study

Good teachers inspire others to learn. Link people to training materials. You are a volunteer and classes at Protospace are for the self-motivated.

If you can, help find what motivates people to self study:

  • Perhaps they have a project they are keen to do
  • Perhaps they are closer to knowing a subject than they think and a prompt of "This is actually pretty close to <insert something they already know>" is what they need to go that extra mile
  • Perhaps they are daunted by how challenging or difficult a subject is and need a beginners guide with a beginners mind

Try to speak to those motivations that while you direct them to training resources. Check in and ask if they have questions.

Do classes online

Many courses - or parts of them - can be done remotely. This reduces logistical burden from getting everyone in the space spot.

If you feel comfortable running an online session, feel free to do so. Google Meet or Discord are probably the best free tools for video conferencing. A Zoom subscription would work too.

Run classes on your schedule

As the instructor, you dictate how your class is run. If you are limited on time, declare your hard stop before class starts and maintain a pace to get there. Don't be shy about cutting off questions if you have to go, even if you're planning to stick around at Protospace and work on a project. You are a volunteer and being deliberate around how much of that time is going to teaching is the best thing you can do to prevent burnout and teach a class, both of which helps Protospace tremendously.

How can Protospace support its instructors better?

Please keep this page up-to-date with new tips, solutions to common problems and tutorials for instructors.

If you have a way to improve the instructor experience, please shout about it on the forum or see the original thread

Keep the classroom and tools in good order and ready to use.

Some ideas that have been suggested and/or require development:

  • Volunteer Only Special Events a paid-for-by-Protospace subsidized-by-training-fees night to a comedy club, laser tag, arcade, movie, nerf battle etc
  • Collecting a fraction of course fees - Suggested by Mike M
  • A "Train the trainer" type of course to help new folks get their feet wet. Bill Elliot has volunteered a course like this
  • Implement a "Number of Students waiting for this Course" feature in Spaceport. This helps instructors know how big backlogs are. (This has been done.)
  • Figure out a more turnkey video conferencing solution for members who want to run online courses